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Ferneham Hall,

Programme Notes

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Saturday 24th March 2012   7.30
Here is a brief introduction to each work in the concert, consisting of an extract from the programme notes in the Havant Orchestras Programme book for the 2011-12 season, which is available in the foyer at concerts for £3

Overture: Cyrano de Bergerac
Johan Wagenaar  1862 – 1941

Wagenaar was a Dutch composer and organist.  His father, Gerard van Hengst was an aristocrat, whilst his mother, Johanna Wagenaar was of more humble origins.  For this reason his parents were not married and he received his mother’s name as his family name.  He began to have formal musical education at the age of 13, receiving lessons in piano, organ, violin, theory and composition from Richard Hol whom he succeeded as organist of Utrecht Cathedral in 1888.  He continued his composition studies by taking lessons in counterpoint with Heinrich von Herzogenberg, and then became a teacher at the Utrecht School of Music in 1896, eventually becoming its Director in 1904.

Wagenaar’s music is staunchly Romantic in style, little troubled by Wagner’s chromaticism and any other 20th century developments …

Robert Blanken

Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Opus 56a
Johannes Brahms  1833 – 1897

Several major works by Brahms were initially composed for two pianos; but unlike the Piano Concerto No 1 and the Piano Quintet, the Variations on a theme of Haydn remain popular in their two-piano form as well as in the orchestral arrangement.  Comparisons between the two versions are intriguing and reveal Brahms’ mastery as an orchestrator.  He took his theme from a manuscript which he acquired shortly after settling in Vienna in 1863, from one of a group of six Feldpartien (Divertimenti) then thought to be by Haydn, but now thought more likely to be by Pleyel.  Ten years later, he took this theme, an Austrian pilgrim song entitled the St Antoni Chorale, making it the basis for a set of eight variations plus a substantial finale.  The orchestral version was first performed on 1st November, 1873.

For his presentation of the chorale theme (Andante), Brahms uses repeats and omits the upper strings to allow the wind instruments to capture the qualities of the original …

Terry Barfoot

Piano Concerto No 2 in F, Opus 102
Dmitri Shostakovich  1906 – 1975

Throughout the ages composers have taken inspiration from the performances of great artists.  Shostakovich, for example, wrote his two cello concertos for Mstislav Rostropovich and his two violin concertos for David Oistrakh, while his two piano concertos were first performed, respectively, by himself and his son.

The Piano Concerto No 2 was composed more than twenty years after its predecessor.  It was completed in 1956, and Maxim Shostakovich (now an eminent conductor) gave the first performance on the occasion of his 19th birthday, 10th May 1957.  The music is spontaneous and infectious in character, a relaxation from the larger and darker preoccupations of contemporary compositions such as the Symphony No 11 (The Year 1905) and the String Quartet No 6.

The first movement abounds in lively and attractive ideas …

Terry Barfoot

Symphony No 4, Opus 71
Sir Malcolm Arnold  1929 – 2006

‘Tonight it’s bongo night’ ran the heading in the Daily Mail on 2nd November 1960, announcing the premiere of Malcolm Arnold’s Fourth Symphony.  It might easily have read ‘West Indian Carnival Night’, but such facile references to the novel use of percussion in this new symphony merely deflect attention from the symphonic nature of the music.  The critics, whilst admiring Arnold’s customary skill in orchestration and his fecundity for attractive, atmospheric, thematic material, tended to dismiss the symphony as a failure.  Much of the criticism was linked to the fact that Arnold was such a prodigious and successful composer of film music and thus, ipso facto, incapable of producing anything of real symphonic substance.  Some writers even went so far as to accuse him of lacking in good taste, as if the ability to write exuberant and joyful sounds precluded tackling anything as serious as a symphony.

This negative initial reaction seems to have cast a permanent slur on the piece – but I must say I enjoyed the premiere immensely …

Peter Craddock

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